BU-802b: Elevating Self-discharge

Learn about an often ignored characteristic of batteries

All batteries are affected by self-discharge. Self-discharge is not a manufacturing defect but a battery characteristic, although poor manufacturing practices and improper handling can increase the problem. Figure 1 illustrates self-discharge in the form of leaking fluid.

Effects of high self-discharge

Figure 1: Effects of high self-discharge

Self-discharge increases with age, cycling and elevated temperature. Discard a battery if the self-discharge reaches 30 percent in 24 hours.

Courtesy of Cadex

The amount of electrical self-discharge varies with battery type and chemistry. Primary cells such as lithium and alkaline retain the stored energy best and can be kept in storage for several years. Among rechargeable batteries, lead acid has the lowest self-discharge and loses only about five percent per month. With age and usage, however, the flooded lead acid builds up sludge in the sediment trap, which causes a soft short when this semi-conductive substance reaches the plates.

Nickel-based rechargeable batteries leak the most and need recharging before use when placing them on the shelf for a few weeks. High-performance nickel-based batteries have a higher self-discharge than the standard versions. Furthermore, self-discharge increases with use and age, and the contributing factors are crystalline formation (memory), permitting the battery to “cook” in the charger or exposing it to repeated harsh deep discharge cycles.

Lithium-ion self-discharges about five percent in the first 24 hours and then loses 1 to 2 percent per month; the protection circuit adds another three percent per month. A faulty separator can lead to a high self-discharge and if critical, the electrical current will generate enough heat that can in extreme cases lead to a thermal breakdown.Table 2 shows the typical self-discharge of battery systems.

Battery System

Estimated Self-discharge

Primary lithium-metal

10% in 5 years


2-3% per year (7-10 years shelf life)


5% per month


10-15% in 24h, then 10-15% per month


5% in 24h, then 1-2% per month (plus 3% for safety circuit)

Table 2: Percentage of self-discharge in years and month.Primary batteries have considerably less self-discharge than secondary (rechargeable) batteries.

The energy loss is asymptotical, meaning that the self-discharge is highest right after charge and then tapers off. Nickel-based batteries lose 10 to 15 percent of their capacity in the first 24 hours after charge, then 10 to 15 percent per month. Figure 3 shows the typical loss of a nickel-based battery while in storage.

Self-discharge as a function of time


Figure 3: Self-discharge as a function of time

The discharge is highest right after charge and tapers off. The graph shows self-discharge of a nickel-based battery. Lead- and lithium-based systems have a lower self-discharge.

Courtesy of Cadex

The self-discharge on all battery chemistries increases at higher temperature and the rate typically doubles with every 10C (18F). A noticeable energy loss occurs if a battery is left in a hot vehicle. High cycle count and aging also increase self-discharge. Nickel-metal-hydride is good for 300-400 cycles, whereas the standard nickel-cadmium lasts for over 1,000 cycles before elevated self-discharge starts interfering with performance. The self-discharge on an older nickel-based battery can get so high that the pack loses its energy through leakage rather than normal use.

Under normal circumstances the self-discharge of Li-ion is reasonably steady throughout its service life; however a full state-of-charge and elevated temperature increase the self-discharge. These very same factors also affect longevity, a phenomenon that applies to most batteries. Table 4 shows the self-discharge per month of Li-ion at various temperatures and state-of-charge. The high self-discharge at full state-of-charge may come as a surprise to many. This explains in part the asymptotical self-discharge characteristic when removing a battery from the charger.

Charge condition

0°C (32°F)

25°C (77°F)

60°C (140°F)

Full charge

40–60% charge







Table 4: Self-discharge per month of Li-ion at various temperatures and state-of-charge
Self-discharge increases with rising temperature and higher SoC. 

Lithium-ion should not be discharged below 2.50V/cell. The protection circuits will turn off of over-discharged and the battery will appear unserviceable when trying to charge. A ”boost” program by which the protection circuit is awoken by applying a forced charge current often restores the battery to full capacity. (See also BU-803: Can Batteries be Restored?)

Li-ion batteries commonly go to sleep when discharged to a voltage below 2.50V/cell. Copper dendrites grow if the cell is allowed to dwell in a low-voltage state for days, weeks and months. This results in elevated self-discharge that drains the battery and could compromise safety.

Figure 5 illustrates the self-discharge of a new Li-ion cell together with a cell that underwent forced deep discharges and one that was fully discharged, shorted for 14 days and then recharged. The cell that was exposed to deep discharges beyond 2.50V/cell shows a slightly higher self-discharge than a new cell. The largest self-discharge is visible with the cell that was stored at zero volt. (See BU-502a: Over-discharging Lithium-ion)

Self Discharge of Li-ion
Figure 5: Self-discharge of Li-ion new and stressed cells
Cells that are stressed with deep discharges and kept at 0V show a higher self-discharge than a new cell.
Courtesy of TU München

Last Updated 3/30/2015

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On December 3, 2011 at 7:26am
John Fetter wrote:

Self discharge is generally caused by impurities. In the case of lead-acid, it is feasible to keep impurities from causing excessive self discharge. This is done by using a suitable chemical substance that prevents the impurities, that inevitably migrate via the electrolyte, reaching the negative plates.

Impurities are present in the negative plates at the time of manufacture, however, they get buried in the negative active mass over time. The impurities in the positives and that are put in the electrolyte with the filling water just keep electroplating out onto the negatives.

These “electroplating” impurities can be stopped by that chemical substance. After about three months in service, the battery ends up with near-zero self discharge.

On December 18, 2011 at 4:56am
Tom Tercek wrote:

This is the best website on batteries, thank you so much..
I have been wondering what the difference is between “precharged”
NIMH vs standard NIMH batteries.
What are the pros and cons of these 2 types??

On February 1, 2012 at 8:03pm
Kenny wrote:

So, do you charge your phone to 100percent or charge it only to 80 percent and use it down to 20 percent and recharge again ?

On February 14, 2012 at 12:59pm
tytower wrote:

Comment 1 -John Fetter - So what is that suitable chemical substance then ?

Tom Tercek- I notice precharged is marked on more recent rechargeables because the have lower self discharge . Standard rechargeables seem to be flat in 1 to 3 months max. The precharged seem to last many months of non use before needing recharge.

On February 14, 2012 at 1:30pm
John Fetter wrote:

tytower:  The source and preparation of this material was revealed on, “How to Prolong Lead-acid Batteries”, Dec 8, 2011 at 3:12 am, (a parallel page on this website). You can find more info. scattered about on various pages.

On May 9, 2012 at 9:22pm
Richard Britton wrote:

Thanks for the wealth of Info on self discherge od secondary batteries.  Much of it, I’ve not seen before, and I’ve been working with batteries about 65 years. 
I would like to find a very low self discharge battery, 6 volt, Group 1 for use in antique cars dating back to the teens. Often they sit unused for years.  They should also have a long useful life (eg. 10 to 30 years). Use of a trickle charger is no problem.

On June 6, 2012 at 3:51am
Valentin Lecuyer wrote:

Thanks for all the infos.

I am facing a big problem of Self-Discharge in a CR2 (Lithium Prinary) battery : When I use it for 75% of its capacity, in less than a day, the 25% left disapear by Self-Discharge.
Does anyone knows about this problem?


On April 15, 2014 at 4:48pm
danwat1234 wrote:

I am curious how the chip inside the battery pack of a laptop accounts for self discharge. For instance if you leave the laptop off for long periods of time unplugged and off (weeks) or leave the battery out of the laptop for weeks or months. When you start up the laptop again and pop in the battery I think it’s smart enough to immediately give the updated, perhaps semi-accurate charge % so it accounts for the self discharge somehow? It can looks at instantaneous voltage readings and changes with load.

Does the chip log history so it knows the behavior of the battery so it doesn’t need to be calibrated when you let the battery self discharge, looking at voltage and maybe resistance and it knows immediately?


On April 18, 2014 at 2:44am
Ben Smit wrote:

Good day,

I have n lithium polymer battery that discharge in 2 days.

I do laser alignment. So I have 2 components.  One is n receiver and the other one n laser.

I have to charge to laser every time before I go and work. Say I did not work for 2 days. The laser discharge by it self. But the receiver sits on 90%.

Whats wrong with the laser battery? Why is it losing its charge?

On May 26, 2014 at 1:39am
Madhav wrote:

Is there any possiblity to reduce self discharge of Lead acid batteries.

On May 26, 2014 at 2:24am
John Fetter wrote:

Madhav - Yes, there is. Please refer to my posts on Additives to Boost Flooded Lead Acid, dated Jan 8, Jan 13 and May 25, 2014.

On August 21, 2014 at 8:11pm
Edward wrote:

John Fetter— are you the Lead-Acid experter???

On August 21, 2014 at 11:09pm
John Fetter wrote:

Edward - Are you Swedish?

On August 22, 2014 at 1:41am
Edward wrote:

John Fetter—No i am a ni battery engineer from China, my email is zzrm316@163.com . keep in touch please

On August 22, 2014 at 5:53am
tom wrote:

great battery site

On August 25, 2014 at 11:19pm
John Fetter wrote:

Edward - You might like to explain why.

On November 6, 2014 at 4:47am
John wrote:

Hello, I just found this excellent website.

Question re.  self discharge (particularly Li-Ion). I presume that the specified discharge rates are based on cells which are not connected / on the shelf. And wonder if/how taking a small amount of current from the cell (c. 50-100 uA) would effect the self discharge characteristics.

The reason for asking this is that I recall a supplier comment some time ago regarding Li-SOCl2 primary cells, which suggested that a small continuous current excited the chemistry sufficiently to reduce the effects of self discharge.

On November 6, 2014 at 5:33pm
Edward wrote:

Hi John ,Do you mean you want to charge the Li-SOCI2 primary cells at very small current??

On November 7, 2014 at 3:55am
John wrote:

Hi Edward.
No, we currently use Li-SOCI2 primary cells in an application which has a small continuous current drain, and are lead to believe that this can improve the life (as it excites the chemistry).
What I was asking was if a similar continuous current would have any positive effect on Lithium-Ion battery’s and possibly help the comparatively poor self discharge characteristics. My understanding following the post yesterday is probably not :-(

On November 8, 2014 at 6:32pm
Edward wrote:

keep in charging the Lithium-ion battery at small current long time?  the over-charge to Lithium-ion battery will damage it

On January 12, 2015 at 7:05pm
Randy wrote:

This is a great site, and this topic a real eye opener. When I first discovered LiPO cells I was ecstatic about their energy capacity, but soon came to realize how much extra care they needed. My latest concern was in a project involving a 200maH LiPo. I had a good charging circuit, but not such good protection against over discharge. In trying to solve that with a home brewed protection circuit, i realized that you can not make a low voltage cut off circuit that draws zero current, a paradox since a LiPO is easily ruined by over discharge. At least this page helped me put it in perspective. seems if I can get my protection circuit to contribute less than 3% of the self discharge, I’m already doing better than a lot of the built in protection circuits.